America’s Most Famous Schoolbook

Called “America’s most famous schoolbook,” The New England Primer is what schoolchildren in colonial America used for learning to read and for understanding the world around them. The Christian Bible played a large role in shaping that understanding. Containing spelling lists, prayers, and moral stories, as well as catechisms for religious study, it's said the Primer gave the child “a map to a world larger than himself . . . a wider spectrum of understanding and better selection of materials to heighten a child’s awareness beyond daily life.” Biblical selections from the King James Bible were interpreted from a Puritan worldview of sin and salvation. Memorization was key, and children would not only memorize the alphabet but also learn rhymes and poems with biblical themes.

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